ND Free Pass: Softball

Author: Carol Schaal '91M.A.

Carol Schaal

As you walk along the winding sidewalk toward the beautiful Melissa Cook Stadium on the southeast corner of campus, it’s easy to spot the long-time fans of the Notre Dame softball team. They’re the ones carrying blankets.

Those savvy spectators know that even the smallest bit of wind will sweep through the stands, making any of the March-through-May home games feel like winter is fast approaching. I learned that lesson the hard way when I went to watch the ND women play Butler on April 7. I’m no weather wimp, but I lasted only an inning and a half before the cold drove me away.

A few weeks later, on May 4, I headed back to watch the first game of the ND vs. Pittsburgh doubleheader. Silly as it seemed, since it was 52 and sunny, I wore a hat and gloves and triple layers. Should have taken a blanket.

Still, it was a pleasure to watch the 21st ranked ND team break the seven-game winning streak of the Panthers, especially since I scored a lower-level chair-back seat behind home plate. Those seats are close enough to the field that I could hear every grunt made by the ND pitcher.

I’m sure the umpire also could hear the remarks being made by spectators in the box seats, especially when he gave the Panthers a run by calling the grunting ND pitcher for an illegal pitch. “Are you showing off just ’cause you’re on TV?” one irate fan yelled. Yes, the games were on ESPNU —which irritated another fan, who complained about the (infrequent) breaks for commercials.

Not all the fans were so grumpy. And two were no doubt cheered when they won some nice promotional giveaways, including a McDonald’s gift card and, for a lucky guy named Michael, a Famous Dave’s feast for four when an Irish player hit a home run in the fourth inning. At each game throughout the season, spectators who answer a trivia question and drop the designated form in a fishbowl at a table set up near the stadium’s concession stand are eligible to win the feast if their form is drawn and their answer is correct. The people in charge of the contest that day didn’t make it too difficult. The question: Who is the Notre Dame football coach?

No one had to walk away completely empty-handed, however, as posters and home-game- schedule refrigerator magnets were freely available, a pleasing souvenir for those who paid the $5 general or $3 youth/senior price for the games, although a buy-one-get-one-free special even cut that cost.

At the successful 8-1 ND conclusion of the game, when I took what another passenger called “beyond a doubt the world’s slowest elevator” to the ground floor, I looked through a brochure I’d earlier grabbed on the Melissa Cook Memorial Foundation.

Melissa, a 1994 ND graduate and former scholarship softball player, was one of four people killed in March 2002 when a huge section of scaffolding on a major Chicago construction project crashed to the street below. After a lawsuit settlement was reached, her mother and stepfather, Linda and Paul Demo, contributed money to Notre Dame for the softball stadium and also started the foundation, which provides “need-based scholarships to students who best embody the spirit and characteristics of Melissa Cook.”

As I left the stadium, walking by a colorful display of spring tulips, I thought about the heart-tugging generosity of Melissa’s family, and the day didn’t seem so cold anymore.

Check out ND Free Pass for a spectator’s sampling of the less-heralded side of Notre Dame competitions: the rowing and the running, the putting and the spiking. Carol Schaal is managing editor of Notre Dame Magazine. Email her at schaal.2@nd.edu.